Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, "Creating Water as Art."™

Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, "Creating Water as Art."™
Pools as an art form - the way it should be!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fountain Forced Perspective Optical Illusion Catherine de Medici Fountain

Vanishing edge pools, negative edge pools, infinity edge pools, perimeter overflow pools, hillside pools, slot overflow pools, knife edge pools, flooded deck pools, wet deck pools, spa, and fountain expert witness Paolo (Paul) Benedetti, discusses one of his favorite fountains - La Fontaine de Médicis (Fountain of Medicis) in the Jardines de Luxembourg, Paris, France (in Paris' Luxembourg Quarters) and design innovation.

Marie di Medici was married to Henry IV, the King of France. Homesick for her native Florence, she nagged her husband until he built her a palatial mansion & grounds. The results were a palace and gardens that would remind her of the childhood palace, where she grew up as a young monarch in Florence. I hope that it cured her homesickness!

On a recent trip to Paris, I stumbled upon a fountain in the Jardines de Luxembourg. The gardens surround the Palais de Luxembourg, which have been converted into a public park. The palace building now houses the French Senate.

The baroque fountain was built in 1625, and was designed by engineer Florentin Thomas Francine. It is comprised of three niches with a pediment ordained with the coats of arms of France and the Médici family. In the 1860's the fountain was relocated & retrofitted. Alphonse de Gisors restored the coat of arms and created a 50 meter water lane, lining the lane with trees. The centerpiece sculpture from the original fountain was placed at the end of the lane.

However, the most unique feature of this fountain is never discussed in any of the descriptions or narratives about it's design... the appearance that it is out of level! Even in the mid-1800's designers were pushing the extremes of design!

It is apparent by looking at the fountain, that the water alley in front of it, pitches towards the back, being out of level almost 3 of feet over it's length! We all know that water always seeks it's own level, so the fountain must be out of whack! (Click on the image to enlarge it & get a better view of the illusion)

I spent the better part of an hour in the rain, measuring the urns, pedestals, railings while trying to determine exactly what they did to executed this optical illusion. I knew that they had altered the scene, but I wanted to understand EXACTLY how they pulled it off. It wasn't until a few months later that it dawned on me... they altered the horizon to trick the viewers' peripheral vision, thereby fooling the mind's eye.

The adjustment of our perceived reality in this manner, is called "forced perspective." This fountain, is by far the best public example that I have ever witnessed.

There are a dozen world class aquatic designers plying my trade in the world today. But, I can guarantee you that there only 2 or 3 of them (I am one of them) who have an understanding of the subtle techniques to "fool the minds eye." To me, being able to force the mind into believing something that is not reality, is the ultimate sense of design - the ultimate understanding of your art, physics, the environment & human body. A designer who is able to execute these techniques with swimming pools, spas, fountains & water shapes is at the pinnacle of the watershape design industry.

I have developed a number of design elements, that I occasionally incorporate into projects, when the client or project warrants such illusions.

I have played with the refraction of light through water, creating illusions that curved surfaces flatten out, or that flat surfaces curve. This is an excellent illusion to use when creating bowls of water. The outside edges can appear to be flat, which our mind tells us should not be able to hold water, yet it does. It is because the viewer's eye sees the refracted image of the underwater structure as being flat.

It took many mock-ups and a series of trial and error experiments, to find the right combination of angles, finishes, proportions and depths to create this illusion. Yet it is satisfying to see a person's reaction the first time they witness the execution of this detail.

Another illusion that I employ is the blending of color. A true watershape designer understands that water filters out certain spectrums of light. Using the science of physics and color theory (the blending of primary & secondary colors), that are always constant, a designer can alter the perceived colors. Colors in the shallow end of the vessel appear to be one color, while in the deeper water (where the greater amount of water filters out more of the affected spectrums of light) the colors appear different. This is because the human eye blends the remaining colors of the light spectrum (that are not filtered out) that are reflected back at the viewer along with the color of the bottom of the vessel. The brain perceives these blended colors as the "true" color of the bottom, when in fact that is not true. This is why there appears to be a gradient shading of the colors as the water gets deeper.

Using artificially colored lighting in & around the pool can also alter the perceived colors. Again the ability to predict the outcome, through the use of color theory, is what puts the leading artists in the watershape industry at the top of their game.

Understanding and using these principals allows a designer to deliver a body of water that exhibits deep hues of a desired shade of color. My clients who want a green pool, never receive a pool with a green finish. I use physics, color theory & the blending of colors to create the shades and hues that I desire, based upon the depth of the pool. I can even create an intensified gradient that is natural and predictable.

Another illusion that I use is water's ability to transmit light. I have been able to light thin sheets of water spilling over a weir, and give the illusion that the water is lit by a horizontal ribbon of light - though there is no light source visible.

I have been able to create absolutely perfect columns of water rising 6-8 feet out of the floor of a fountain... a virtual vertical laminar. I have been able to eliminate the water falling back on itself, disrupting the laminar effect. Impossible you say? You can't turn off gravity! You're correct, but we're talking about illusions here... it has the illusion of being a vertical laminar (virtual laminar). At night the effect it astounding, as I have lit these columns of water from underneath - they appear to be 4-6" diameter vertical columns of water 6-8 feet high. Viewed from a distance of 20 feet, it is absolutely amazing.

I have suspended spilling vessels in mid-air, giving them the illusion that they are levitating with no attached pipes or wires, but they are still able to spill water. Our brain says "I see it, but don't believe it." The response is always, "how did they do that?" Being able to identify things that one observes in their daily life & travels, modifying & innovating them for use as a watershape is an innate ability, again not an ability that many individuals in the watershape industry possess.

The ability to observe the world around you, dissect the illusions and forced perceptions that you experience, and incorporate them in new and innovate ways is the mark of a watershape designer who is at the top of the mountain. One who can constantly deliver something new, surprising, and creative - and not a simple rehash of something that has already been done.

This is the designer - an artist, inventor, & innovator - that you deserve on your next project.

Paolo Benedetti - Aquatic Artist
"Creating water as art."™
Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa